Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at how fiction can play a major role in explaining factual events today in Wales.
Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
Sometimes it can be wise to read novels as a way of trying to understand what is happening at a top level in Wales.
One example might be Anthony Trollope’s 1875 masterpiece “The Way We Live Now”, in which a fictional villain is brought to life called Augustus Melmotte, who is embraced by the establishment, both in the political and business worlds.
Nobody knows where he came from, and nobody knows the source of his funds, though there are dark rumours of chicanery.
Yet none of these facts are a barrier to Mr Melmotte’s social ascent.
In looking again at this fictional account, I am reminded of what is happening today with the Welsh ‘comedian’ Huw Marshall.
His ‘projects’, too, have been welcomed by prominent political figures who are, in effect, part of the establishment, and his source of money (which was uncertain) has been bolstered by a controversial ‘partnership’ with a giant media company which is a leading player in the business world.
Only yesterday, a full page colour advert appeared for his latest venture, a ‘national’ news service called The National for Wales (TNW) in the Barry&District News, declaring: “Together we can make a better, more prosperous Wales”.
That, surely, could come out of the mouth of a cheesy character in a book!
Mr Marshall has ‘partnered’ through Gavin Thompson, with the huge Newsquest Media Group (NMG), who has just released a ‘manifesto’ for his latest contentious ‘project’ in which he said Mr Marshall “worked hard to convince us it was viable” and that “The journey began with a crowdfunded campaign by independent organisation New Media Wales”.
Mr Thompson’s company (NMG), is the UK arm of the even-bigger American corporation Gannett Incorporated, a mass media firm headquartered in McLean, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, and is the largest US newspaper publisher (which has made many potential supporters uneasy), with its behaviour being highlighted by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Last November it was reported that the NUJ was celebrating union recognition of local democracy reporters, and this came hard on the heels of other alarming headlines.
In July it was published that the NMG furlough scheme was a “waiting room for redundancy” with at least 38 journalism jobs at risk, and in March of the previous year the NUJ criticised plans to cut staff in Brighton, South London and North Wales, which was to lead to an overall headcount reduction of six.
The worrying nature of this ‘partnership’ has also been highlighted by David Nicholson on Twitter, who is the NUJ’s National Executive Council (NEC) member for Wales.
As NMG, Gannett owns a host of Welsh titles including The South Wales Argus in Newport, but it has often made troubling news itself.
In May 2019 under the headline “NUJ speaks up for Newsquest journalists at Gannett AGM” details were released that “…the union remains seriously concerned by Gannett’s stewardship of Newsquest, its relentless job cutting programme, a looming hostile takeover bid and the dire conditions facing journalists who work for the UK company”.
Plainly the connection with Gannett Co., Inc, is also making those people uncomforable who might otherwise have supported the ‘venture’ – and one said on Twitter “for me it’s important to be owned and run in Wales”.
Another declared: “He’s (Mr Marshall) been saying for a while that there is a “Partner” on board……I assumed that it was a local, welsh business……but it does indeed look like it is News quest! !”.
The link-up with NMG/Gannett has, too, come in for furious criticism on social media more recently, with one critic saying on Twitter: “Why are we having to use a London based company?”.
A different detractor declared: “Gotta be honest, a London-headquarterd media outlet is not at all what I thought I was supporting, purported editorial freedom or nay. I have some reasonably major reservations”.
The rise and rise of Mr Marshall, though, goes on unabated, and there are striking parallels with Trollope’s Mr Marmotte in the way the establishment have taken him to their hearts.
The headline-grabbing Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC) member for Blaenau Gwent, Alun Davies, MS, declared on Twitter about Mr Marshall’s TNW, with which NMG is the ‘partner’: “Well. I wish you best of luck with this initiative. Anything to strengthen our news environment should receive a warm welcome”.
A ‘warm welcome’ was given, as well, to the ‘pilot’ for it, which was wished “Best of luck” by Welsh Government (WG) minister Lee Waters, and a supposed ‘language project’ of Mr Marshall’s was described on social media as “Newyddion da (Good news)” by fellow WP/SC member, Helen Mary Jones, MS.
Ms Jones has also hit the headlines, after she was ordered to appear in court when she had retweeted “highly inappropriate” comments on social media about a murder trial.
She had shared a Twitter post written by a domestic abuse campaigner which expressed “hope” that a jury would find a man guilty of murdering his wife, relating to the trial of Anthony Williams who had killed his wife Ruth on March 28 last year.
The Contempt of Court Act (which evidently Ms Jones did not understand) makes it an offence to publish anything which could prejudice or impede a trial.
The message, written alongside a BBC article about the court case, said: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete bulls***! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse. I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth”.
This comment which Ms Jones ‘retweeted’, was from Rachel Williams, a prominent anti-domestic violence campaigner and pioneer of the Ask for Ani (Action Needed Immediately) scheme, of which the Duchess of Cornwall is a patron.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that TNW is to be launched with just TWO ‘digital reporters’, and critics question whether a ‘national’ service can be provided by such a small number, and Mr Marshall (the ‘driving force’ for TNW according to Mr Thompson) has made the news himself for all the wrong reasons.
He was severely reprimanded by the social media giant Twitter because one of his accounts “violated the Twitter Rules”, and it found that another, “Welsh Bollocks”, had also broken their regulations.
In 2013, it was disclosed that Mr Marshall had made extremely offensive remarks to senior politicians, on Twitter, and complaints after further comments led to the reprimands.
These were surely in the vein of what Trollope’s Mr Marmotte might have done.
One insult seven years ago, was directed by Mr Marshall, at the Labour MS and minister Ken Skates with another hurled at the former Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black.
After Mr Skates tweeted in celebration of a one-vote council by-election victory over Plaid Cymru (PC) in Ruabon, Mr Marshall referred to him in his own tweet as a “gloating t**t”, and he described Mr Black as a “humourless t..t” as well as a “dull, tedious t..t”.
The humour too of this ‘comedian’ who is behind TNW, has been questionable. Two people had died and a police officer lost the sight in both eyes when rampaging gunman Raoul Moat shot them, yet despite this on July 8, 2010 – with him trying to escape from armed police – Mr Marshall published a message on his Facebook (FB) site, reading: “Hi I’m a sexy 19 year old blond (sic) from the North East of England looking for some fun.
“My Mr Right should be a big strong ginger man with a fiery temper and a jealous nature, who also enjoys camping and writing long letters”.
Another post read: “Moat reward… if he isn’t caught by next Wednesday, the rewards (sic) being doubled. It’s going to be a Raul (sic) over”.
Mr Marshall’s dealings with the police in a more mundane capacity than his ‘comedy’ about Moat, have also been alarming. He has contacted the police but said on Twitter that there was little they could do as “it is a waste of their precious time”, and “I really pity those who try to undermine my work and reputation”.
But it seems the police HAVE had time to investigate Mr Marshall for alleged harassment. On Twitter he told South Wales Police (SWP) that he intended to make a complaint, however officers responded by informing him that they have a “responsibility to investigate any reports”.
It won’t be comedy however to look over the Trollope book “The Way We Live Now”, to try to understand what is happening in Wales today, when a ‘media expert’ who has made sick ‘jokes’ about a murdering gunman, and foully abused senior politicians, is partnering with a huge company which describes him as the ‘driving force’ behind a new ‘project’…
Tomorrow – it’s not fiction that another leading media figure broke the rules on impartiality.
Phil’s memories of his astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (before the advent of The National for Wales) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major (non fiction) book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!